Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chapter 25: In which I discuss marijuana, Entourage and Eminem

In a few weeks, the good people of California will vote on Prop 19, the bill to legalize and tax cannibis. This is a significant vote, not just for people who like weed (which, by the way, is damn near everybody in this country). I can't see the level of pot-smoking in this state really going up or down if it was legal. Prop 19 is significant in that it marks a clear repudiation of one of the most lowdown, racist abuses of American law.

Californians like to portray their state as the liberal capital of America. Fact is, California doesn't even count as "progressive." This is a state that led the charge for homophobia with the passing of Prop 8. This is a state where police execute black men on train platforms and get away with it. This is a state where the gap between haves and have-nots is so vast, I suspect Hollywood execs use Mexican immigrants to bicycle-power the hot tubs at their cocaine parties. Prop 19 is not just an excuse for people to smoke herb. It is a rejection of the War on Drugs, a decades-long scam designed to feed the prison industry. In rejecting this scam that's crippled poor communities, California could actually come close to realizing its potential as the most forward-thinking state in this union.

Needless to say, the White House is vehemently against Prop 19. Maybe this will be a good chance for Americans to learn what people in the Caribbean and Africa have known all along: a black man at the head of a racist system does not make it less racist. Beyond the absurdity of Obama wanting to throw other black men in jail for nothing, it points out the absurdity of drug laws, because you just know Obama smokes weed. Yeah, everybody does, but that guy sure as hell does. So why is the shit illegal?

California: realize your potential. Vote for 19.


And speaking of weed, somebody who smokes a lot of weed is Eminem. A guy who cannot look good on film.

I have never been a big hip-hop fan but, coming of age in the late 90s, I was of course fascinated with Eminem. An undeniably talented rapper, he captured the cultural zeitgeist with his tales of white trash frustration and violent revenge fantasies on people who wronged him, many of them women in his immediate family. His generic rapper homophobia, because of his popularity, became a rallying point for gay rights groups, the same way Marilyn Manson rallied the Christian fundamentalists a few years earlier. I loved The Marshall Mathers LP. It's one of the best records I've ever heard, period. Favorite track: "Kill You." Second favorite: the skit about ICP sucking dick.

Yet I always felt disappointed in him. Here's a guy with not just a soapbox, but a whole stage to express his views, has massive cross-cultural appeal, and he uses it to ream harmless targets like Christina Aguilera and his wife. On his next album he tried to get political, but did so in a neutered way. He made an anti-Bush song called "Mosh," which was not a good song, released it after the 2004 election, and did a video for it in which he gathers an army of black bloc malcontents, marches them through the streets so they can...go vote. Voting? Really? The Disturbed video for "Land of Confusion" had more balls. Anyways, after that I was pretty much done with Marshall. A great talent, but he just played it too safe.

That is all as intro for something I have just discovered: Eminem cannot look good on film.

A few years ago he starred in a movie called 8 Mile. In it, he plays a belligerent loser who engages in unsafe sex, is paranoid and responds to the slightest insult with violent rage. The character, called B. Rabbit, doesn't even flow as well as the real Eminem. They said the film was semi-autobiographical, and I hope the "semi" part was the most important. This is not to say 8 Mile isn't a crass star vehicle. There are plenty of scenes with B. Rabbit making goo-goo faces at his daughter, attempting to save her from the influence of his nutty mom, yelling at people to stop arguing over petty shit, etc. Believe it or not, we are supposed to like this character.

The fact that the movie shoves his elusive likeability in my face only makes it more obvious what a douche this character is. Case in point: There's a scene where he and his friends find an abandoned building where a little girl got raped. His heroic idea is to burn it to the ground. For some reason, his friends go along with this. So he risks burning down the whole block just to take out this one vacant. What a hero.

And his friends respect him, for some reason. While Mekhi Phifer and the others aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, they aren't portrayed as the dullest, yet they spend the movie deferring to this clown's judgment. They treat the other dumb white guy in their crew, Cheddar Bob, with open disdain. This seems more realistic. Their respect for Eminem does not make him look good: it just makes them look worse. So anyway, he spends the movie doing asshole moves that supposedly make him great, including defending a gay guy at work by telling the homophobe that "No! It is in fact, you who have HIV!" And we're meant to cheer this guy on when he defeats a gauntlet of eeeevil rappers in the final rap battle. Please.

8 Mile would have been impressive had I never seen Purple Rain. Eminem's movie is a straight up uncredited remake of Prince's. One day I'm going to write a retrospective on the four Prince movies. Purple Rain is an undeservedly overlooked film. Think about it: it's a movie written by amateurs, directed by an amateur, starring Prince and his entourage (there are literally only two real actors in the film), yet they manage to make a movie that is entertaining, engaging and has psychological depth. Prince's character, The Kid, is a tortured individual who goes through the mental ringer in the movie. Here is where Purple Rain succeeds and 8 Mile fails: The other characters are aware that The Kid is an asshole. They call him out on the fact that he's self-centered, that he has no respect for his bandmates, that he's got jealousy issues, that he hits women, that he dresses and acts like a girl. This grounds the movie in the real world, giving it a convincing grittiness. 8 Mile takes place in a fantasy dreamland version of Detroit where a guy like B. Rabbit wouldn't just get clowned on.

Which brings me to the season finale of Entourage.

I used to like Entourage when I started watching in season four. I found it subversive. A story about a pampered, vapid Hollywood star named Vince who has one hit film, then squanders it by pissing off execs, passing up high-profile pictures, ruining big-budget movies due to his own ego, sinking his own money into disastrous film projects, and generally driving his career into the ground. He depends on other people for everything, surrounds himself with sycophantic losers, spends his days doing drugs and having empty sex with slutty girls. All of this is on top of the fact that he is a bad actor. However, it never occurs to this guy that he's ruining his whole life; he maintains the same laidback attitude through all these ordeals, and the whole show has this fun demeanor. It seemed truly original: a tragic story told without a hint of tragedy. I was onboard until the end of season 5, where, after a whole season focused on his bad decisions, the writers deus ex machina'd him into the lead role in a Scorsese film. Never mind that he can't act. It occurred to me that what I had taken for subversion was, in fact, lazy writing. Vince will never truly be allowed to reach bottom, so I recognized the show for what it's always been accused of being: porno for frat boys. The core audience is not discerning, which is why it's been on the air 15 years, but I had to stop watching. Seeing Adrian Grenier get laid once a week gets tired. There has to actually be a story. For a real comedy about the dark side of fame, I suggest people watch the show "Extras."

I heard that this year, in the 127th season, they were finally going a little dark, making Vince into a coke addict. So I watched the season finale. Vince, in coked-up mode, goes to a party thrown by Eminem. It's worth noting that Eminem has the DJ playing nothing but Eminem songs. This already puts him pretty high on the douche-o-meter. There's nobody on his label he could promote instead? Vince makes an ass of himself, so a bodyguard tells him to leave. Vince won't. Marshall himself comes over, tries to calm Vince down. Vince replies with "Fuck you," inspiring Eminem to have him bounced from the party. Incensed, Vince says "What, you're too mainstream now to fight your own battles, Marshall?" Marshall responds to this lame and lowgrade insult by sucker-punching Vince in the face, then diving behind his bodyguards while they carry out the beatdown on this drugged-out scrawny guy and his useless brother, Johnny Drama. This is oddly reminiscent of the MTV VMAs a few years ago, where Marshall had his bodyguards whisk him away from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

In theory, this scene is supposed to make Marshall look good. He throws a killer party, tries to play the peacekeeper, but is willing to throw down once insulted. Instead, he just looks like a wuss. I have seen two instances of Marshall acting, both of which are tailored to show him as god-like, and both put him in the worst light possible. Why can't he look good on film? In other news, he's still a talented rapper. I liked "White Trash Party."

Okay, I'm done with the pop culture overload. Next blog post will be intellectual. I promise.

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